Peter Tabori

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Peter Tábori is a Hungarian-born British architect who trained in London and is best known for the housing schemes he designed at Camden under Sydney Cook in the 1960s and 1970s, especially Highgate New Town (1968–79).

Education and early career[edit source][edit]

Tábori was born in Hungary in 1940 and came to Britain in 1956, after being imprisoned for six months following the Russian invasion of 1956. In Britain he finished his schooling and worked for a year for the architect Cecil Epril (1897–1982) before starting his architecture training at Regent Street Polytechnic, London (1958).

At the end of his first year Tábori won a travel scholarship, which he used to travel in northern Italy, visiting Siena, Florence and Pisa. At the end of his second year at the suggestion of James Stirling he took a year's break and applied to fellow Hungarian Ernö Goldfinger, where he worked for a year. Tábori returned to Regent Street and then went back to Goldfinger for his official 'year out'. Goldfinger was to be a lasting influence on PT, not least his interest in pre-modernist buildings and form.

Tábori returned to Regent Street for fourth year (1963–64). Here his tutor was Richard Rogers, freshly returned from the U.S. – the start of Tábori’s interest in housing. Tábori was inspired by Rogers' enthusiasm for mass production and, for his fifth year thesis, decided on a thesis exploring industrialized housing typologies. By this stage, Rogers had given up teaching, to concentrate on the Team 4 projects with Norman Foster at al; but informally he continued to mentor Tábori and recommended he should incorporate some real sites and briefs. Tábori contacted Hampstead (the forerunner of Camden) and was sent information on three sites, including Highgate New Town. But his thesis looked at vertical facades with hung balconies and, contrary to subsequent myth, was not the origin of his stepped-section design for Highgate New Town. The Italian-born Rogers encouraged Tábori to draw on his experience from visiting Italy’s hill-towns, which featured terraces and external stairs as at Highgate New Towns. Tábori was also influenced by Rogers’ interest in environmental design, which became evident at Highgate New Town – one of the first times that ‘ecological’ principles were applied to council housing in Britain.

Later career[edit source][edit]

The external examiner for Tábori's fifth-year thesis was Denys Lasdun, who promptly offered Tábori a position in his office. Tábori stayed with Denys Lasdun & Partners for three years (1965–68), working on the University of East Anglia, including the terraced ziggurat-like halls of residence and spending five months on the details of the pre-cast concrete with engineers Ove Arup – an experience that he would put to good use at Highgate New Town.

While still working for Denys Lasdun, in the autumn of 1967 Tábori was invited by Camden’s borough architect Sydney Cook to attend for an informal interview. For Tábori the primary attraction of Camden was Neave Brown, whose radical low-rise design for Fleet Road (Dunboyne Road) accompanied by the text, ‘The form of housing’, had just been published in Architectural Design magazine.[1] Highgate New Town is the best known of Tabori’s Camden housing schemes and at the time was widely published in the UK, as well as France and Japan. But it was not the only one. At the same time as designing Highgate New Town, Tabori was asked by Cook to produce a design for another site, in Polygon Road, close to St Pancras Station. The design for this (now known as Oakshott Court) was closely related to Highgate New Town but with the terraced blocks in a L-shape formation. Due to pressure of work, delivery of the scheme was given to outside architects (first Roman Halter and then James Gowan), who made a number of changes (including red brick facing instead of concrete) without affecting the fundamentals of the design. The scheme was published extensively in the UK and also in Japan.[2]

While Highgate New Town was under construction, Tábori designed a third housing scheme, for a corner site at the junction of Mill Lane and Solent Road, which was eventually completed in 1981. While a much smaller scheme than the other two, it belonged to the same family, with a stepped section and striking external staircases cascading down the façade.[3]

Apart from these, Tábori’s work at Camden included the redevelopment of railway lands, which constituted a large proportion of the potential sites in the borough. In 1974-75 he worked with the engineers Ove Arup on a borough-wide land-use and planning study, ‘The Adaptability of Railway Land in Camden’, looking at the feasibility of decking over railway lines at various locations for housing and other uses. He then produced (to detailed design stage) a scheme for decking over South Hampstead station, including 400 dwellings, shops and a sports centre (1975-77) and another for Hampstead Heath station (900 dwellings) (1977–79). Following serious injuries sustained in a car accident and other major health issues, Tábori was eventually forced by ill health to leave Camden in the 1980s and focused on private work.

Recently, with the revival of interest in the low-rise high-density format developed at Camden, Highgate New Town has received renewed attention. Not only in Swenarton 2017, which documented Tábori’s work for the first time, but also subsequently in D Levitt and J McCafferty, The Housing Design Handbook (Routledge 2019) and M Althorpe and A Batchelor, Revolutionary Low Rise (Karakusevic Carson Architects 2019).[4][5]


1. Swenarton 2017: Cook's Camden: the making of Modern housing 109-110 2. ^ Swenarton 2017: Cook's Camden: the making of Modern housing 297 3. ^ Swenarton 2017: Cook's Camden: the making of Modern housing: 295 4. ^ D Levitt and J McCafferty, The Housing Design Handbook: Routledge 2018 5. ^ M Althorpe and A Batchelor, Revolutionary Low Rise (Karakusevic Carson Architects 2019